Ok-anim.gif (510 octets) LES JUIFS D'ISTANBUL

ITS ALL RELATIVE: Yiddish in Istanbul
By Schelly Talalay Dardashti

(September 6, 2001 / The Jerusalem Post) - An island of Ashkenazi history and culture in Turkey


THE invitation to settle in the Ottoman Empire proffered by the Sultan to the Jews of Spain - who faced expulsion in 1492 - remarked on their achievements. Many responded and settled in Turkey, becoming very successful in their adopted homeland. So large was the community, that one might have assumed all Turkish Jews were descendants of those who were refugees from Spain and Portugal.

Not so.

A deep-rooted - although few in number - Ashkenazi community is centered in Istanbul, and its leaders are trying to both preserve their heritage and inform the world - and their own young people- about the community's history.

"OUR Istanbul Ashkenazi community has about 800 members, representing about 3% of the city's Jews," says Erdal Frayman, co-author of the recently published "A hundred-year-old synagogue in Yuksekkaldirim: Ashkenazi Jews." "Most of us are married to Sephardim, and we don't know how long our tiny community will be active."

"We felt a book published on the centennial anniversary of our beautiful synagogue would be a source for our children to learn about their roots and for others to know a different culture."

Sales proceeds will be used to underwrite more research into Ashkenazi life in the Ottoman Empire and in the early years of the Turkish Republic.

Printed in both Turkish and English, the book offers the widest possible readership for its intended audience; its photographs are a rich portrayal of community historical life, as are the discussions of community personalities.

Of particular genealogical interest is the accompanying booklet, Istanbul ulus askenaz mezerligi gomu listesia (Burial list of the Istanbul Ulus Ashkenazi Cemetery).

Authors Frayman, Robert Schild and Moshe Groseman are not professionals; their main purpose in publishing the book is to keep Yiddishkeit alive in Istanbul.

Frayman, a textile exporter and chemical engineer, earned an MBA at George Washington University (Washington, DC).

Schild, in the steel business, has a PhD in business administration, and is a columnist for the weekly Jewish newspaper, Shalom.

Groseman, an accountant, is on the community's board, and is publisher of the monthly magazine, Tiryaki.

IN Genesis 10:3 and Chronicles 1:6, "Ashkenaz" is used for the people who lived between Armenia and north of the Euphrates and, in Middle Ages rabbinical literature, it was a euphemism for Germany.

Jews lived in the Greek Colonies of the Black Sea coast as early as the 1st century CE, according to the book. And, much later, when England, France and Germany all banished their Jews to the east, they were welcomed in 15th century Poland, where about 60 communities quickly shaped Ashkenazi culture.

Yiddish became the lingua franca of a wide geographical area, was used in literature and research and became the daily secular language, while Hebrew was the language of religion.

In 1648, the Greek Orthodox Bogdan Chmielnicki and the Crimean Tartars rebelled against Poland. Although there was suffering among Roman Catholics and nobles, the real victims were Jews - about 100,000 killed in five years. Crimean slave traders captured thousands of Jewish survivors and sold them to Italian, Moroccan and Ottoman Jewish communities, who ransomed them.

In 1795, Poland was split among Russia, Prussia and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, leaving most Jewish communities in Russia, between the Baltic and Black Seas. The Jews in Austria-Hungary had a better life, and Russian Jews were attracted by the improved living conditions.

ISTANBUL'S Ashkenazi community dates to the 14th century CE, when King Ludwig of Bavaria drove away his Jews, who then settled in Ottoman areas: Gallipolis, Ankara and Adrianople. Ashkenazi Rabbi Zarfatti invited German, French, Hungarian Jews to live under the Ottomans in peace and prosperity.

Jews from Bavaria and other areas responded, moving to Sofia, Plevne, Thessalonika and Istanbul.

In 1550, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent invited Ashkenazim once again. They settled in Istanbul, Adrianople, Thessalonica, Palestine, etc., served by prominent rabbis.

In 1650, 300 Chmielnicki survivors were sold by slave traders; many were ransomed by the Istanbul community. When Hungary rebelled against the Ottomans in the 17th century, Ashkenazim fled from Hungary, Poland and Ukraine to Sofia, Thessalonika and Smyrna.

And, in 1854, when the Ottoman Empire and its allies began the Crimean war against Russia, about 400 Crimean Jewish families living in Kerch moved to Istanbul, received citizenship and organized a synagogue.

In the late 1800s, Ashkenazim took over commerce between the Austrian-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. Many Austrian Jews held high level positions. The community, never more than a small percentage of the population, became more important and received foreigners' privileges. They set up their own synagogues, bet din (religious court), various institutions and even butchers.

Paris-based Alliance Israelite Universalle, established in 1860, opened schools throughout the Empire, and the German Jews Rescue Association (Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden) was formed in 1901. The Goldschmidt School opened in Galata in 1870, teaching the boys in German, while girls were taught French at the Galata Alliance school.

IN 1900, the Austrian Jews invited a young rabbi, Dr. David Feivel Shraga Markus, to run the Goldschmidt school and serve as community rabbi. Born about 1871, in Novgorod, Russia, Markus arrived in December 1900.

Faced with an economically poor factionalized community, he saw religion was not popular, and that Christian missionaries were very active. His goal became education, and founded the Ohr Torah school, in Galata, to educate future teachers and rabbis, and to counter the missionaries.

Markus spoke at Shabbat services (made compulsory for youth), organized Sunday events for poor Russian and Romanian immigrants; and ran conferences on Jewish philosophy and literature. The rabbi was much beloved, according to community archive documents, by both the Ashkenazim and Sephardim for his good works, although the two communities did not get along well. Marcus attempted to bridge the gap by organizing a branch of International Bnai Brith in 1911.

In 1912, Ashkenazim numbered 10,000, and Marcus signed an agreement with the chief rabbinate on the community's staus. Unity was established among the various Ashkenazi factions with a center in Galata.

In 1914, Marcus opened a Jewish high school - previous schools were primary grades only. Initially named Yavne (later Bnai Brith/Bene Berit High School), Marcus was director from 1916-17 and 1922-40. It opened with three grades and 23 students.

Today, about 500 students, about one-third of the community's children, are educated in English and Turkish, from primary through high school at its modern facility in Ulus - the Ulus Jewish School.

FROM 1831-1866 (when it burned), a house in Hendek Street, Galata, was used as a synagogue. The Austrians built a new one (The Austrian Temple) in Yuksekkaldirim. In 1900, it was replaced by the current building, called the Yuksekkaldirim Synagogue, designed by Venetian architect G.J. Cornaro, at a cost of about 60,000 French francs.

Dedicated on Elul 23, 5660 (1900), guests included Austrian-Hungarian ambassador Baron de Kalaci and Ottoman Empire chief rabbi Mose Halevi. The Torah scrolls were placed by the chief rabbi, and Cantor Vladovski lit the Ner Tamid (Eternal Lamp).

After Vladovski, Cantor Gerschon Schaposchnik (1902-1972) served the synagogue for 40 years.

It is said, say the authors, that even the Christian priests would come to hear him chant Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur. A composer and author, he adapted works of Russian and European classical composers to prayers. Following him were David Goldner and R. Yaakov Palci.

Rabbis of the community (I have taken the liberty of adding English transliterations to the Turkish spelling) were Rabbi Moyse Kossoy, Rabbi Sapira/Shapira, Rabbi Kusnir/Kushnir, Rabbi Osruel Segal, Rabbi Krimir Simin/Shimin, Hazan David Rabinovic/Rabinovich.

DRESSMAKING and tailoring were two of the community's professions. Prominent were Sultan Abdel Hamid II's tailor, Solomon Shloymi Weiner, and Ataturk's hatmaker, Aaron Frayne.

The Ashkenazi Tailors' Association opened the Tofre Begadim (Tailors Synagogue) for services in September 1894. While wealthier Jews preferred the Yuksekkaldirim synagogue, the craftsmen preferred this one.

In 1998, the Galata Ashkenazim Cultural Association converted this building into the Schneidertempel Arts Center, which hosts art exhibits.

Or Hadash Synagogue, built in 1895, provided religious services, a senior care facility - Moshav Zekenim - and accommodation for travelers and poor immigrants. It operated until 1963, when it moved to the Haskoy Jewish High School building

From 1912-1931, the community supported various charitable organizations: Lehem ubasar la'aniyim (meat and bread for the poor) provided hot soup, meat and bread for the needy, especially for Shabbat; Ruhama assisted pregnant women and provided clothing and milk for babies. From 1907, Milk Drop, a women's foundation, helped sick and weak children, distributed milk to school children, and provided needy families with Shabbat and holiday necessities. Until 1980, it also provided poor students with school supplies.

The cemetery register book begins in 1876; Jews were buried in Haskoy, Kuzguncuk and Ferikoy cemeteries, some in Balat. The Crimean families were given a cemetery in Sisli by the government.

In 1907, the community bought land in present day Ulus; first used in 1920, and whose burials are listed in the separate booklet accompanying the book.

AND, in a great coincidence of timing, Kemal Ataturk's striving to modernize Turkey included invitations to foreign scientists to come and work at the Istanbul and Ankara universities. This call came as Nazi Germany had banned Jews from universities and other occupations in the early 1930s - the only way for Jews to survive was immigration. As the Ottoman Empire had opened its borders 450 years previously to the Spanish Jews, Turkey created a safe haven for men of science, culture and technology, who began arriving in October 1933.

After WWII, many returned to Europe, some went to the US or to Israel. They left behind their assistants and students who became the mainstay of Turkish universities for a full generation. And some remained in Turkey, continuing their achievements in their adopted homeland. The book lists those in the fields of medical science, law, economics, linguistics and history, applied sciences, music and the arts.

WHEN asked about the future of the community's young people, Erdal says, "Many of our young people stay, as the country has an active economic life, a great social life, and the Jews are rather well integrated into the large population, its culture and education." During the holidays, the community brings an Israeli cantor who conducts services.

The historical Schneider Temple (Tailor's Synagogue), now an art gallery, has created interest in the community and what it means to be Ashkenazi. This year, it hosted a Holocaust exhibition and other important art presentations.

"We welcome visitors to both the synagogue and the art gallery. We encourage them to visit, creating interest in our community," says Erdal Frayman.

Erdal Frayman, <pufitrk@superonline.com>

Synagogue: Galata, Yuksekkaldirim 37-41
Schneidertemple Art Gallery: Galata, Felek Sok 1
(also the community offices)
+90-212-244-2975, +90-212-252-2152
"A hundred-year-old synagogue in Yuksekkaldirim: Ashkenazi Jews" is also available at <http://www.jewishgen.org/jewishgenmall>

 

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